Top U.S. and European officials will meet with the new Palestinian leadership in London today to consider $4.5 billion or more in new aid that they hope will bolster the Palestinian government, boost the economy and strengthen the drive toward peace in the Middle East.
Pledging money may prove to be the easy part. The larger challenge will be avoiding the corruption that drained the life out of aid programs during the long tenure of Yasser Arafat, who died in November.
Newly elected Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and others have begun cleaning house. Reformers in parliament last week forced a purge of nearly all corruption-tainted officials from the new Cabinet.
'But things haven't changed as much as they need to change, and it is going to be very difficult,' said Danielle Pletka of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, who monitored Palestinian aid programs during a decade as a senior staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Government officials and financial experts in the United States and other donor countries agree. They predict that the struggle over corruption and spending will set off political battles that could last for years.
Many officials also fear that cracking down hard could strain the fragile Palestinian leadership and endanger the whole peace process. (So give the terrorists money for peace!) Time after time, the officials say, such concerns have led donors to turn a blind eye to corruption.
The Palestinian Authority has received billions of dollars for schools, hospitals, roads and other basic needs in the last decade, one of the most expensive development programs ever on a per-capita basis. But millions of dollars disappeared and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict raged for much of that time, leaving little to show for the money. (Um, show me a single hospital built during the "peace process." It isn't that a percentage was used for terror - ALL of it was!)
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